Diversity Debate, Politics

Don’t Abandon the King Standard

Over the past few years, but especially since Donald Trump’s election, we have witnessed a vanishing common ground on issues of race between Left and Right. Presently, the race debate in America is not over marginal issues or their nuances but over first principles; apart from a general (and correct) belief that racism is bad, few shared values bind people together. Instead, we have what Thomas Sowell once called, in a slightly different context, “a conflict of visions.” What is racism, and how should it be defined? How prevalent is it in our society, and what are its effects? How should our institutions attempt to dismantle it? On these and many other questions disagreement is fierce.

The media reaction to the recent episode, during which Trump was reported to have referred to Haiti and other African countries as “shitholes,” is indicative of widening disagreements about how we talk about race. Even in such an apparently straightforward case as this, a furious debate erupted over the proper way to interpret Trump’s remarks. On the Left, writers from Vox to the HuffPost condemned Trump’s as unambiguously racist. They argued that Trump not only implied that these countries themselves were dysfunctional, but that this dysfunction was reflected in the citizens of those countries. As German Lopez of Vox put it: “Trump is not just saying that Haiti and African countries are shitholes. He’s indicating that the (predominantly black) people from these countries are themselves bad — to the point that the US should not accept them as immigrants.” For leftists, moreover, Trump’s behavior was in keeping with a history of racism that must not be ignored.

Although some on the right largely concurred with this assessment, others came to the defense of the president. The editors of the National Review wrote, “What he was almost certainly trying to get at, in his typically confused way, is that we’d be better off with immigrants with higher skills.” In this reading, Trump’s comment was merely a tactical blunder, and not indicative of prejudice. Dennis Prager seconded this opinion, and said that Trump was right to point that 1) certain countries and societies are run disastrously and that 2) immigrants from those societies tend to use more welfare and are therefore more dependent on the American government. Trump’s language, Prager allowed, was inappropriate. But his general intuitions were correct.

The fundamental source of this and most other disagreements on race is that the Right and Left are applying different standards when they employ the word “racist.” The petty debates over whether this or that comment is racist will continue until some sort of consensus about standards can be reached. It would be more constructive, then, for political commentators to articulate the principles under which they are operating rather than presupposing them and accusing the other side of ill will when they happen to dissent.

The mainstream Right’s approach to racial issues is essentially guided by Martin Luther King’s dictum: judge others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. So long as everyone is afforded equal opportunity without regard to race, the Right is mostly indifferent to outcomes. This is one of the reasons conservative commentators have rejected race-based affirmative action policies; preferential policies, they argue, make race important in processes where it should be irrelevant. David French of the National Review, for example, refers to affirmative action as “the new racism.”

American economist Thomas Sowell (1964)

Understanding the mainstream Right’s theoretical framework on race as informed by King’s dictum also explains the conservative position on ‘disparate impact’ issues — that is, issues where racial discrimination is presumed to exist because a supposedly colorblind policy has a disparate impact on members of a disadvantaged minority. Here again, conservatives are indifferent to statistical outcomes so long as the general approach and intent of a policy is not explicitly racist. Thomas Sowell, the Right’s most articulate spokesman on race, has argued against “disparate impact” claims as such: “The implicit assumption is that such statistics about particular outcomes would normally reflect the percentage of people in the population. But, no matter how plausible this might seem on the surface, it is seldom found in real life…” For Sowell, disparate impact is not evidence of discrimination because there is no reason to assume that there would be equal outcomes in the absence of discrimination.

On the other hand, much of the Left has abandoned King’s colorblind standard in favor of a sort of ‘active’ anti-racism. It should be noted that Martin Luther King’s views on affirmative action-like programs are disputed. What he would have thought about preferential policies, however, is less relevant here than is the perceived essence of his “I have a Dream Speech,” which has become part of the national conscience and has informed the defense of the colorblind standard. But colorblindness, many leftists argue, is insufficient. On its own it will not do enough to dismantle the remaining effects of white supremacy. If we are to finally eradicate racism, what is needed is an attitude and perspective that does take racial outcomes into account. Otherwise, blacks will continue to be mired in poverty, sent to prison at disproportionate rates, and under-represented in the nation’s top colleges and positions of power.

Such principles guided Michelle Alexander’s influential book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her thesis is that the U. S. criminal justice system has revitalized a racial caste system even as it presents itself as ‘colorblind.’ She writes: “In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.” So, institutional racism circumvents this problem by labeling blacks felons, so that it can turn around and deny them the basic rights of citizenship that the old Jim Crow system once did.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic has made similar arguments in favor of an active anti-racism stance. In 2014 he went as far as to call the colorblind standard “elegant racism.” Elegant racism, he wrote, “is invisible, supple, and enduring. It disguises itself in the national vocabulary, avoids epithets and didacticism.” It manifests itself in the outrageous disparities between blacks and whites in terms of incarceration and poverty rates. It manifests itself in race-neutral language and policies that actually harm blacks. Even the term ‘mass incarceration,’ Coates argues, “obviates the fact that ‘mass incarceration’ is mostly localized in black neighborhoods” — blacks are targeted by police to an extent that dwarfs the comparable statistics for whites. Stamping out these and other forms of elegant racism, says Coates, will require a confrontation with history, a recognition that white supremacy persists, and a language and framework that tackles the continuing impacts of racism.

Coates and Alexander have gained wide audiences; their books are bestsellers, and they are celebrated across liberal media outlets. Their animating idea — that to overcome racism, the United States must discard any pretense to colorblindness — has become accepted across broad swathes of the mainstream Left. For better or worse, however, it marks a stark departure from King’s appeal that skin color should be ignored.

The battle between colorblindness and active anti-racism will have enormous consequences for American society. The questions asked, the policies pursued, and that language employed in racial discourse will all depend on the theoretical framework that defeats the alternative, or that gains wider acceptance. Affirmative action, police practices, and other programs will be decided by this debate over first principles.

Insofar as I’m prepared to weigh in on that debate in this essay, I want to argue that both empirical evidence and universalist moral principles still seem to corroborate Dr. King’s insights. What follows is not meant to serve as a definitive takedown of the active anti-racists’ stance, but as a series of objections to their approach, as well as a vindication of the continuing wisdom of colorblindness:

First, if it was correct to oppose Jim Crow and racial segregation because it is unjust to penalize people for characteristics like skin color over which they have no control, then one ought to oppose affirmative action and other such “color-conscious” policies on precisely the same grounds. The fact that it is now white and Asian students who are being disadvantaged as a result of systemically discriminatory policies, rather than black or Hispanic students, should have no bearing on the moral problem in question. Whatever the sins of (some) of their ancestors, it is unjust to expect higher standards from whites because of events for which they bear no personal responsibility; it is perhaps even more unjust to place higher standards on Asians, a group which, unlike whites, suffered from historical discrimination in the past. Affirmative action attempts to remedy a past, cosmic injustice through the infliction of present, concrete injustice. (And even at this task it likely fails.) The best solution is to judge applicants by the same standard when it comes to university admissions and job applications, and to implement policies that help everyone achieve high qualifications before they apply for those positions to begin with.

Second, attitudes toward, and interpretations of, inequalities and statistical disparities are important. If, as the active anti-racists assert, racial inequalities arise from differential treatment, then that problem would necessitate a particular set of policies. However, if racial inequalities originate in other factors, such as geography, culture, and age, then our attitudes toward statistical disparities must change accordingly. If the latter interpretation is true, there is no reason to assume that disparities are either suspicious or the result of structural injustices. Asian Americans, for instance, have lower unemployment rates than whites. Moreover, Asian American men earn 117 percent as much as white men. Presumably one could not appeal to structural injustices against whites to explain this gap — and if this point is granted, then the reasons we continue to see disparities between racial groups become clear without having to appeal to racism or discrimination. As Eileen Patten writes in her Pew report: “Research shows that a majority of each of these gaps can be explained by differences in education, labor force experience, occupation or industry and other measurable factors.”

Third, one of the most tenaciously-held assumptions of the active anti-racist stance is the notion that all particular statistics should, in some way, reflect general population statistics. This is why we see them decrying, among other things, the overrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics in prisons and the underrepresentation of these minorities in elite colleges. But in none of these particular cases is there any reason to expect the statistics to reflect demographics in the broader society. Rather, the correct comparison is the relevant pool from which those specific populations are drawn. It is more reasonable to expect the prison population to reflect the pool of people committing crimes and for the elite-college population to represent the pool of most qualified applicants. What would be fascinating, unprecedented, and strange would be a perfect demographic representation of the broader society across all areas, in spite of the relevant factors.

As the race debate rages on, the need to rediscover a set of unifying first principles will become increasingly important. Although King’s standard is now decades old, those who still long for a society where people are treated as individuals, rather than as members of (usually contrived) collectives must prepare themselves to defend and reaffirm the wisdom of colorblindness in the face of new ideological challenges.

 

Christian Gonzalez was raised in Miami, Florida, but now studies political science at Columbia University. If you’d like to get in touch, feel free to contact him at cag2240@columbia.edu

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39 Comments

  1. Say you find a duffel-bag full of money but later learn that it was the life savings of a mother and father who had been robbed and murdered, and that their children are now poor, hungry and parentless.

    1) Even though you have committed no crime, do you feel a moral imperative to return that money to the family?

    2) Are you being “penalized” or “disadvantaged” by the expectation that you return it?

    • Dan Meisels says

      Say you are hiring for a job. Do you hire based on:

      A. Competence
      B. Ethnicity
      C. Both

      The issue here is the disagreement over C. Clouding the issue with orphans and murder when its about hiring does not get to that issue. You seemed to misunderstand the whole argument here.

      • @Dan Meisels, context is important. If you can’t see the connection, it is you who doesn’t understand the argument. But I think you DO see the connection, which is precisely why you’re afraid answer the question.

    • Miles says

      You’re making an argument for reparations. From whom to whom? From whites to blacks? What about poor whites, do they have to pay too? What about rich blacks, do they receive payment? What about non-whites who haven’t experienced historic oppression? And Asians, should they pay?

      • Jeff York says

        And then there are those whites who’s ancestors arrived after 1865 and/or never lived in the South.

        • @Jeff York, you’re saying Whites whose ancestors arrived after 1865 and/or never lived in the South have in no way benefited from any system of oppression? you seem to be making the argument that slavery is the one and only form of oppression that has ever occurred in America. Do you think that’s true?

          • ga gamba says

            “you’re saying Whites whose ancestors arrived after 1865 and/or never lived in the South have in no way benefited from any system of oppression?”

            If we accept the assertion America was built by racism as true, then all its people today have benefitted from it irrespective of their identity. This is as true for an immigrant from Nigeria and China as it is for one from Switzerland. Everyone has access to public services and most private services, such as businesses open to the general public, are also available to all – there are a few exceptions such as private women-only fitness clubs where one applies to be a member. Individuals will benefit differently for countless number of reasons, for example one person uses the roads for many more miles than average and another person borrows books from the public library more frequently than average, yet there is no law that forbids anyone from maximising their use of either based on a heritable characteristic.

      • One step at a time there, Hoss. Neither the complexity of the issue nor fact that I don’t have a perfect solution negates the underlying moral claim.

    • Andre says

      What does your “found duffel-bag analogy” have to do with racism and affirmative action?

      Either we have property rights – in which case your stuff is your stuff and the mother and father’s duffel bag now belongs *to their children* – or we don’t. Just because you found the duffel bag, doesn’t mean you get to keep it. That would be theft.

      ALL of us are descendants of rapists, murderers, and slaves. It’s just a matter of how far back you have to go. Fixating on 5-10 generations is arbitrary, and in any event, the vast majority of Americans – of all colors – don’t descend from the slave owners of those generations.

      If you’re going to punish those with the wrong skin color because you believe they are descendants of “oppressors,” to benefit those with the correct skin colors because you assume they are descendants of the oppressed, you will not only be ineffective in your stated objective very, very often, you will be racist 100% of the time.

      • @Andre: I agree with you answer to the first part of my question, but you didn’t directly answer the second; any reason why not?

        In response to your point that we are all descendants of rapists, murderers, and slaves: if I could point to the ways that I have benefited from my ancestors’ rapes and murders, as well as those who are currently impacted by them, I would try to rectify the situation. Likewise, If I could point to the group whose ancestors had raped, murdered, and enslaved mine, and the ways in which that currently impacts me, I would demand justice.

        Fixating on a certain era of oppression is not arbitrary; its effects are simply the most relevant and visible today. Additionally, historical Southern slavery is not the only act of oppression to have occurred in American history, and more than just the direct genealogical descendants of slaveholders have benefited from those acts of oppression.

        To your last point, my determining factor for who owes whom is not race; it is who has benefited from historical oppression and who has paid the cost. It only appears “racist” because, at the time of distribution, the determining factor for how those benefits and costs were distributed was race.

        • Andre says

          “If I could point to the ways that I have benefited from my ancestors’ rapes and murders, as well as those who are currently impacted by them, I would try to rectify the situation. ”

          The point is you can’t. You can’t make it from theoretical to the practical. There is no practical way of doing this that doesn’t a) miss most of wrongs you want righted b) create a multitude of new injustices and c) crown winners who were never wronged.

          “Fixating on a certain era of oppression is not arbitrary; its effects are simply the most relevant and visible today.”

          Clearly not. The most relevant and visible today are those who are being disadvantaged *today*.

          “my determining factor for who owes whom is not race; it is who has benefited from historical oppression and who has paid the cost.”

          Okay, I’ll bite. a) Who *specifically* do you include in each group and b) what is your *specific* determining factor that will allow us to identify someone as belonging to one group or the other?

        • ga gamba says

          ” if I could point to the ways that I have benefited from my ancestors’ rapes and murders, as well as those who are currently impacted by them, I would try to rectify the situation.”

          Since I don’t know you personally I address this to the hypothetical you. If you are the descendant of a rape victim you have benefitted from that crime. The rape and the resulting offspring set off a chain of events that resulted in your existence.

    • ga gamba says

      “Say you find a duffel-bag full of money but later learn that it was the life savings of a mother and father who had been robbed and murdered, and that their children are now poor, hungry and parentless.”

      Here is the problem with your construct: it fixates on one point in time and ignores that what preceded it. How did this bag of money come into being? Was it illicitly gained directly? What if it was one or two steps removed from the crime? Further, your scenario conflates two individuals for an entire people and implies that what happened to these two is the same as what happened to the many.

      Those who use these arguments often have a very selective knowledge of history – they accuse certain people of the present of benefitting from crimes committed against others yet disregard that the other people of the past also benefited from crimes too. All peoples have benefited from crimes such as war, invasion, slavery, oppression, appropriation, etc. at points in their histories. Do you think the Bantu people were welcomed by others as they began their conquest of lands south of present-day Cameroon? They perpetrated invasion and all the crimes associated with that act happened surely. Do you think the majority Greeks who lived in Byzantine Constantinople rejoiced when the Seljuk Turks swept in to Anatolia from Central Asia? The Turks conquered the Byzantine Empire at almost the same point in history as when Columbus landed in North America.

      We study and understand history to avoid repeating mistakes and not to undo the mistakes of the past.

  2. Jan de Jong says

    The two definitions in short form:
    1. Racism is the absence of equal individual opportunity
    2. Racism is the absence of equal group outcomes

    • 1. Racism is the active denial of equal opportunity due to an individual’s race. Immoral, unlawful.
      2. Where #1 is eliminated, equal outcome is the responsibility of the individual, not society.

  3. Ben Fisher says

    I really don’t see how anyone could argue that Donald Trump’s statements about Haiti are anything other than racist. The statements are pretty consistent with his racist statements about Mexican immigrants and Muslims during the 2016 campaign and are consistent with his long history of racism. Remember the lawsuit filed against him during the 1970s by the Nixon administration for violating the Fair Housing Act as a result of his refusing to rent to black people?

    However, I do think we should find some sort of compromise that draws upon the strengths of the “colorblindness” and “active anti-racism” approaches but also recognizes each approach’s weakness.

    In my opinion, embracing an extreme form of colorblindness is a fool’s errand because it denies differences in experience and differences in opportunity. While race is a social construct, racial categories have had real world consequences for the past 400 or so years in the Western hemisphere (i.e. slavery, genocide against Native Americans, racial discrimination, lynchings, discriminatory police practices). Maybe we’d like to reach a point where “race” can be irrelevant, but I don’t think we are anywhere close to that.

    But there are absolutely things we can do to mitigate racial inequality. We can hold police departments accountable for discriminatory practices. We can invest more in primary and secondary education in communities that are predominantly composed of people of color. We can tackle health disparities and build trust in the medical field due to the history of medical experimentation on black people in the United States. Through genetic technology, we can perhaps start holding accountable wealthy corporations who have historically built wealth from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We can stop sending people to prison for non-violent drug offenses.

    Those sorts of policy interventions would comprise my version of “active anti-racism.” However, I think some people are taking an extreme anti-racism approach that actually reduces people of color and white people to racial categories and stereotypes and thereby disallows personal agency. It disallows individuality of any kind. For example, black men might be overrepresented in the prison system within the United States; but that doesn’t mean that every black man is going to end up in prison. Or some of the pieces from the Left that mock the deaths of white people as a result of the opioid epidemic.

    If you hadn’t guessed from previous paragraphs, my ideological bent is definitely Leftist. So I’m obviously going to be more amenable to an anti-racist approach. But I have witnessed the limitations of the anti-racist approach in my friend circles over the past 5-10 years. For example, a friend felt emboldened to say “Any time I see a white homeless person, I think ‘No excuses.'” Or a black woman colleague (who I love to death) said something along the lines of “There are no good black men to date because they are all in prison.”

    I really enjoyed reading this piece, even if I don’t 100 percent agree with portions of it. I’m glad that Quillette is promoting a safe space for discussions like this.

    • Seems to me that you haven’t seen any limitations to the ‘anti-racist’ approach. In one paragraph you mention that we need to invest in education for communities primarily made up of ‘people of color’, build trust in the medical field because of medical experimentation on African Americans, and get ‘reparations’ from corporations that may have profited from the slave trade. Then you go on to say that you think some people are taking an ‘extreme’ approach to ‘anti-racism’ without realizing that you spouted out some radical ideas yourself. Maybe it’s time for some self reflection.

      • Ben Fisher says

        I guess I didn’t think that those ideas were considered radical. I would describe them as progressive/Leftist but not radical. I tried to put forward examples of what I see as an extreme “anti-racist” approach that sees people only through the lens racial categories (i.e. linking black men with prison, mocking deaths of white people within the opioid epidemic).

        I’d feel more comfortable with a “blind” approach to college admissions if there were equal investment in educational opportunities. I currently live and work in Newark, New Jersey, which is a majority black community; and there is a major disparity between investments in public education if you compare Newark with a township like Montclair, which is diverse but still majority white. Both of these municipalities are in the same county. It’s hard for me to know all of this and not demand an equitable investment in both school systems.

        • Sorry I just reread my comment and realized how haughty I sounded. I do agree that there is not equal investment in primary and secondary education, but I do not believe it is a singular issue of state’s or counties choosing not to fund those schools. I am by no means an expert on public policy but boiling it down to “We just need to equally distribute the funding and everything will resolve itself”. I do appreciate this dialogue though. One of the main reasons that I love Quillette is the comment section.

          • Ben Fisher says

            I appreciate the dialogue as well. Hope we can continue it. I’m glad that it’s dialogue and civil disagreement rather than ad hominem attacks on each other’s character…which unfortunately happens all too often among my fellow Leftists.

        • ga gamba says

          “there is a major disparity between investments in public education if you compare Newark with a township like Montclair, which is diverse but still majority white. ”

          OK, this is true. But you failed to look at why there is a disparity. Each state allocates an equal sum for each student irrespective of race, region, religion, wealth, etc. (This is one of the reasons why schools take attendance.) Individual school districts or municipalities then ask the local electorate to support a referendum that levies additional taxes, often on real estate, to supplement the budget. The voters may vote yes or no. Where these referendum are approved it’s because the people voluntarily decided to take on the additional financial obligation. Are you opposed to people voluntarily paying more for services? Further, this funding is distributed equally within the school district, so even students from families who pay less tax and those from minority communities still are treated equally by the school district. I know of no school budget item “for whites only”.

    • Christian says

      Hi there– I just want to reply to one of the paragraphs you wrote:

      “But there are absolutely things we can do to mitigate racial inequality. We can hold police departments accountable for discriminatory practices. We can invest more in primary and secondary education in communities that are predominantly composed of people of color. We can tackle health disparities and build trust in the medical field due to the history of medical experimentation on black people in the United States. Through genetic technology, we can perhaps start holding accountable wealthy corporations who have historically built wealth from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We can stop sending people to prison for non-violent drug offenses.”

      1) Holding police departments for discriminating would be in keeping with the spirit of the Civil Rights Act– that is, that the government shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of race. This would be in keeping with the colorblind standard.
      2) Investing more in needy communities could also be colorblind– after all, the people in need are poor, and poor people include people of all races. Of course, because blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately poor, a colorblind anti-poverty strategy would disproportionately help them. I don’t want to get too deep here into what the best sort of anti-poverty program would be, just want to articulate this general principle.
      3)Health disparities are complicated, but surely no one would object to trust-building activities.
      4) I disagree with the notion of holding corporations “accountable” if they benefited from the slave trade. It’s too late for that. If we went back into history to attempt to hold institutions accountable for their crimes, we would never stop redistributing wealth. Too many crimes have been committed in history for us to attempt to redress those cosmic injustices now. For more on this, I highly recommend the first essay in Sowell’s book “The Quest for Cosmic Justice,” or that you listen to this lecture, if you have time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkDMVdEci4Q&t=651s
      5) I think there is broad agreement that prison sentencing is in need of reform.

      Finally, kudos to you for objecting in a civil and respectful manner on these contentious issues. That’s what civil society is all about!

      Chris

      • Ben Fisher says

        Hi Chris. I’m glad that there are people out there who open to this kind of dialogue. Quillette is quite valuable for providing this safe space for free expression without any of us having to worry about the ad hominem attacks on our characters.

        Areo Magazine has published some incredibly thought-provoking pieces as well – pieces that are incredibly validating for me. I identify as a Leftist, a strong feminist, and a progressive, a (dare I say) anti-racist; but I’m quite frankly disturbed at how quick the Left has been to stifle free speech lately. Other Leftists are fed up with it as well – see Laura Kipnis. While I might disagree with you about redistribution of wealth or reparations, I certainly don’t think it gives me a right to assassinate your character.

        Thank you for the Thomas Sowell recommendation. I may just check that essay out.

        • Christian says

          Awesome. And I’ll check out Kipnis– hadn’t heard of her but she certainly seems interesting.

          Cheers

    • ga gamba says

      “The statements are pretty consistent with his racist statements about Mexican immigrants and Muslims during the 2016 campaign and are consistent with his long history of racism. ”

      Firstly, Muslims aren’t a race. Secondly, Trump’s comments were about illegal immigrants from Mexico, a subset of Mexican immigrants. Further, he fractionated that group by saying “some of them” are committing crimes. This is entirely true. It cannot be disputed; the data exists in crime statistics. That illegal immigrants from Mexico were mentioned is because they constitute the largest group of illegal immigrants. It would be kind of silly to mention those from Andorra or the Seychelles.

      Some argue that illegal immigrants don’t commit crimes disproportionately to citizens. Whether or not this is true is not germane; that it’s offered in their defence is a way to redirect the conversation. Had they not been in the country illegally neither the crime would been committed nor the person(s) victimised. A nation’s first duty is to its citizens. That citizens commit crimes too is altogether different because we’re stuck with them – a person has to be a citizen of some place. An immigration programme that vets applicants provides a level of scrutiny magnitudes better than we get with people just wandering in because they feel like it.

  4. Barry D says

    Nice article. I most enjoyed the way you treated both sides. It’s a rare thing these days.

  5. Jeff York says

    Random thoughts: DJT just said out loud what tens of millions of Americans privately believe or, in the case of someone who has actually been to third-world countries, knows to be true. During my twenty-four years in the U.S. army & army reserve, ’76-’00, I served in seven third-world dystopias, four of them Islamic visions of what can only be described as Hell on Earth, I kid you not. I’ll be blunt: they *are* sh*t-holes. All these starry-eyed kumbiya flakes who are experiencing apoplexy over DJT’s remarks wouldn’t want those people living in their gated-communities or dating their daughters any more than they want a pit-bull with rabies as a pet—trust me.

    A lifeboat can only hold x-number of people. Add x+1 and everyone drowns. The days when America could absorb large numbers of unskilled people who didn’t speak English have long since past. Two issues are missing from the debate about immigration: 1. How many people can America support at what is considered to be the traditional American lifestyle? 2. I never hear anyone asking, what do the American *people* want? The debate is always framed as (1) what do the “elites” (in their ivory towers) on the Left and the Right want and (2) what do would-be immigrants want? Major policy that impacts the demographics of America like the IRA of 1965 and amnesty for millions of illegal aliens should’ve been put to a national referendum after a thorough national debate.

    Contrary to propaganda put out by the Left, we are not all immigrants or descended from immigrants. America was created by settlers/pioneers. Settlers/pioneers move into a wilderness and create a nation from absolute scratch. (This happened not once but ~49 times in America; Hawaii was a special case). Immigrants arrive in an existing nation that has government, borders, immigration law/policies and infrastructure. Those of us who are descended from the founding-stock are not (from) immigrants.

    All talk of reparations needs to cease immediately. The window for reparations which, yes, should’ve been paid, was 1865-1964. The money that could’ve been used for reparations was instead used for LBJ’s Great Society/War on Poverty programs; $6-trillion by one count, $22-trillion in 2015 inflation adjusted dollars. Blacks will have to be satisfied with that and ~45 years of AA. It took from 1835 to 2000 for the national debt to go from zero to $5.7-trillion. It took just sixteen more years to more than triple to ~$20-trillion. If that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you it should. This year, for the first time, interest on the national debt is projected to hit $400-billion and will increase each year into the foreseeable future. “In deep poo-doo we are in,” Master Yoda said.

  6. I think this excerpt from John McWhorter’s 2015 article “Anti-Racism, Our New Flawed Religion” is some of the best writing I’ve seen on the politics surrounding racism in the 21st century. McWhorter is a black professor of linguistics at Columbia University last I checked.

    He writes:

    “An anthropology article from 1956 used to get around more than it does now, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” Because my mother gave it to me to read when I was 13, of course what I remember most from it is that among the Nacirema, women with especially large breasts get paid to travel and display them. Nacirema was “American” spelled backwards—get it?—and the idea was to show how revealing, and even peculiar, our society is if described from a clinical distance.

    These days, there is something else about the Nacirema—they have developed a new religion. That religion is antiracism. Of course, most consider antiracism a position, or evidence of morality. However, in 2015, among educated Americans especially, Antiracism—it seriously merits capitalization at this point—is now what any naïve, unbiased anthropologist would describe as a new and increasingly dominant religion. It is what we worship, as sincerely and fervently as many worship God and Jesus and, among most Blue State Americans, more so.

    To someone today making sense of the Nacirema, the category of person who, roughly, reads The New York Times and The New Yorker and listens to NPR, would be a deeply religious person indeed, but as an Antiracist. This is good in some ways—better than most are in a position to realize. This is also bad in other ways—worse than most are in a position to realize.

    For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates, now anointed as James Baldwin’s heir by Toni Morrison, is formally classified as a celebrated writer. However, the particulars of his reception in our moment reveal that Coates is, in the Naciremian sense, a priest. Coates is “revered,” as New York magazine aptly puts it, as someone gifted at phrasing, repeating, and crafting artful variations upon points that are considered crucial—that is, scripture. Specifically, Coates is celebrated as the writer who most aptly expresses the scripture that America’s past was built on racism and that racism still permeates the national fabric.

    This became especially clear last year with the rapturous reception of Coates’s essay, “The Case for Reparations.” It was beautifully written, of course, but the almost tearfully ardent praise the piece received was about more than composition. The idea was that the piece was important, weighty, big news. But let’s face it—no one, including Coates himself, I presume, has any hope that our current Congress is about to give reparations for slavery to black people in any significant way. Plus, reparations had been widely discussed, and ultimately put aside, as recently as 15 years ago in the wake of Randall Robinson’s The Debt. Yet Coates’s article was discussed almost as if he were bringing up reparations as a new topic.

    It actually made perfect sense. People loved Coates’s article not as politics, since almost no one thinks reparations are actually going to happen. But belle-lettristic concerns weren’t the key either: Coates is hardly the only writer out there who has a way with the words. People were receiving “The Case for Reparations” as, quite simply, a sermon. Its audience sought not counsel, but proclamation. Coates does not write with this formal intention, but for his readers, he is a preacher. A.O. Scott perfectly demonstrates Coates’s now clerical role in our discourse in saying that his new book is “essential, like water or air”—this is the kind of thing one formerly said of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

    One hearkens to one’s preacher to keep telling the truth—and also to make sure we hear it often, since many of its tenets are easy to drift away from, which leads us to the next evidence that Antiracism is now a religion. It is inherent to a religion that one is to accept certain suspensions of disbelief. Certain questions are not to be asked, or if asked, only politely—and the answer one gets, despite being somewhat half-cocked, is to be accepted as doing the job.

    “Why is the Bible so self-contradictory?” Well, God works in mysterious ways—what’s key is that you believe. “Why does God allows such terrible things to happen?” Well, because we have free will … and it’s complicated but really, just have faith.

    It stops there: beyond this first round, one is to classify the issues as uniquely “complicated.” They are “deep,” one says, looking off into the air for a sec in a reflective mode, implying that thinking about this stuff just always leads to more questions, in an infinitely questing Talmudic exploration one cannot expect to yield an actual conclusion.

    Antiracism requires much of the same standpoint. For example, one is not to ask “Why are black people so upset about one white cop killing a black man when black men are at much more danger of being killed by one another?” Or, one might ask this, very politely—upon which the answers are flabby but further questions are unwelcome. A common answer is that black communities do protest black-on-black violence —but anyone knows that the outrage against white cops is much, much vaster.

    Why? Is the answer “deep,” perhaps? Charles Blow, at least deigning to take the issue by the horns, answers that the black men are killing one another within a racist “structure.” That doesn’t explain why black activists consider the white cop a more appalling threat to a black man than various black men in his own neighborhood. But to push the point means you just don’t “get” it (you haven’t opened your heart to Jesus, perhaps?). Jamelle Bouie answers that there’s a difference between being killed by a fellow citizen and being killed by a figure of authority, but does that mean “It’s not as bad if we do it to ourselves”? Of course not! … but, but (roll of the eyes) “racist,” “doesn’t get it.”

    One is not to question, and people can be quite explicit about that. For example, in the “Conversation” about race that we are so often told we need to have, the tacit idea is that black people will express their grievances and whites will agree—again, no questions, or at least not real ones. Here and there lip service is paid to the idea that the Conversation would not be such a one-way affair, but just as typical is the praise that a piece like Reni Eddo-Lodge’s elicits, openly saying that white people who object to any black claims about racism are intolerably mistaken and barely worth engagement (Eddo-Lodge now has a contract to expand the blog post into a book). Usefully representative is a letter that The New York Times chose to print, which was elicited by David Brooks’s piece on Coates’s book, in which a white person chides Brooks for deigning to even ask whether he is allowed to object to some of Coates’s claims.

    Note: To say one is not to question is not to claim that no questions are ever asked. The Right quite readily questions Antiracism’s tenets. Key, however, is that among Antiracism adherents, those questions are tartly dismissed as inappropriate and often, predictably, as racist themselves. The questions are received with indignation that one would even ask them, with a running implication that their having been asked is a symptom of, yes, racism’s persistence.

    As such, even Brooks has gotten the religion, critiquing Coates’s book while also making sure to say that “every conscientious American should read it.” Brooks, here, is genuflecting, as America now does in general to Antiracist scripture. One is to accept that beyond a certain point—and one arrives at the point quite quickly—one is to treat logic as optional and simply have faith.

    The Antiracism religion, then, has clergy, creed, and also even a conception of Original Sin. Note the current idea that the enlightened white person is to, I assume regularly (ritually?), “acknowledge” that they possess White Privilege. Classes, seminars, teach-ins are devoted to making whites understand the need for this.

    Nominally, this acknowledgment of White Privilege is couched as a prelude to activism, but in practice, the acknowledgment itself is treated as the main meal, as I have noted in this space. A typical presentation getting around lately is 11 Things White People Need to Realize About Race, where the purpose of the “acknowledgment” is couched as “moving the conversation forward.” A little vague, no? More conversation? About what? Why not actually say that the purpose is policy and legislation?

    Because this isn’t what is actually on the Antiracists’ mind. The call for people to soberly “acknowledge” their White Privilege as a self-standing, totemic act is based on the same justification as acknowledging one’s fundamental sinfulness is as a Christian. One is born marked by original sin; to be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege.

    The proper response to original sin is to embrace the teachings of Jesus, although one will remain always a sinner nevertheless. The proper response to White Privilege is to embrace the teachings of—well, you can fill in the name or substitute others—with the understanding that you will always harbor the Privilege nevertheless. Note that many embrace the idea of inculcating white kids with their responsibility to acknowledge Privilege from as early an age as possible, in sessions starting as early as elementary school. This, in the Anti-Racism Religion, is Sunday school.

    Think of it. A certain class of white person, roughly those who watched 30 Rock and Mad Men, lustily pumps their fists at the writings of a Coates who says that he is surprised that white people—i.e. ones like them—are interested enough in black people and racism to even bother reading his work. Coates is telling these people that they are sinners, in a sense, and they are eagerly drinking in the charge, “revering” him for it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is worship, pure and simple.

    Antiracism parallels religion also in a proselytizing impulse. Key to being an Antiracist is a sense that there is always a flock of unconverted heathen “out there,” as it is often put about the whites who were so widely feared as possibly keeping Barack Obama from being elected (twice). One is blessed with, as it were, the Good News in being someone who “gets it,” complete with the Acknowledging.

    Finally, Antiracism is all about a Judgment Day, in a sense equally mesmerizing and mythical. Antiracist scripture includes a ritual reference to, as it were, the Great Day when America “owns up to” or “comes to terms with” structural racism—note that “acknowledge” is a term just as appropriate—and finally, well, fixes it somehow. But how would a country as massive, heterogenous, and politically fractured as this one ever arrive at so conclusive and overarching a policy as “fixing” racism, either psychologically or structurally? The whites “out there” are, after all, such incorrigible heathens—just what were we assuming would change their minds? Tablets from on high? What, precisely, is anyone specifying in calling for America as a whole to finally “wake up” to racism? What would this “coming to terms” even entail, anyway?

    The specifics are as hazy as the Rapture, and considered just as beside the point. America “coming to terms with” racism functions as an abstract construct serving not as a political plan, but as a tacit promise of catharsis. In the here and now, whites cannot erase the PRIVILEGED brand seared into their white skin. However, after Judgment Day, after the Rapture, after the Great Day, the accounts will finally be settled. After America has its Great Awakening, whites will walk in the grace of innocence at last.

    Some might be proud to own that Antiracism is a religion. What’s wrong, after all, with being profoundly committed to seeing all people as equal and calling for more people to feel the same way? In itself, nothing, of course, and the prevalence of Antiracism today is welcome in other ways as well. The very fact that white America today cherishes this religion is evidence that Coates’s particular pessimism about America and race is excessive. If hatred and dismissal of black people were really still as much the bedrock of this society as Coates and others seem to think, then Antiracism—complete with the logical elisions and willful contempt of self required—would not be the new religion of enlightened white America.

    Yes, the religion has more sway with the educated than beyond. However, it’s easier to deny progress has happened—or to pay mere lip service to its having happened—than to grapple with the fact that progress happens slowly but happens nonetheless, and for real. Anyone who thinks the only difference between America in 1965 and America in 2015 on race is what people feel comfortable saying out loud would be shocked if transported to a living room full of educated whites in 1965, finding that such people readily dismissed Martin Luther King as a rabblerouser. Antiracism is an effective religion. It has attracted converts far and wide, now felt so deeply by its adherents that they sense it as a norm, to a degree that would have seemed fantastical to, say, the America of 1956.

    Yet Antiracism as religion has its downsides. It encourages an idea that racism in its various guises must be behind anything bad for black people, which is massively oversimplified in 2015. For example, it is thrilling to see the fierce, relentless patrolling, assisted by social media, that the young black activists covered in a recent New York Times Magazine piece have been doing to call attention to cops’ abuse of black people. That problem is real and must be fixed, as I have written about frequently, often to the irritation of the Right. However, imagine if there were a squadron of young black people just as bright, angry and relentless devoted to smoking out the bad apples in poor black neighborhoods once and for all, in alliance with the police forces often dedicated to exactly that? I fear we’ll never see it—Antiracism creed forces attention to the rogue cops regardless of whether they are the main problem.

    The fact is that Antiracism, as a religion, pollutes our race dialogue as much as any lack of understanding by white people of their Privilege. For example, the good Antiracist supports black claims that standardized tests are “racist” in that black people don’t do as well on them as other students. But Antiracism also encourages us to ask why, oh why black people are suspected of being less intelligent than others—despite this take on the tests, and aspiring firefighters and even teachers making news with similar claims that tough tests are “racist.” Now, to say that if black people can’t be expected to take tests then they must not be as smart is, under Antiracism, blasphemous—one is not to ask too many questions. The idea of a massive effort—as concentrated as the people battling cop abuse against black people—to get black kids practice in taking standardized tests doesn’t come up, because the scripture turns our heads in other directions.
    And too often, Antiracism doctrine loses sight of what actually helps black people.

    Ritual “acknowledgment” of White Privilege is, ultimately, for white people to feel less guilty. Social change hardly requires such self-flagellation by the ruling class. Similarly, black America needs no grand, magic End of Days in order to succeed. A compact program of on-the-ground policy changes could do vastly more than articulate yearnings for a hypothetical psychological revolution among whites that no one seriously imagines could ever happen in life as we know it.

    Antiracism as a religion, despite its good intentions, distracts us from activism in favor of a kind of charismatic passivism. One is to think, to worship, to foster humility, to conceive of our lives as mere rehearsal for a glorious finale, and to encourage others to do the same. This kind of thinking may have its place in a human society. But helping black people succeed in the only real world we will ever know is not that place.”

    • Ben Fisher says

      Wow. I had never read that piece from John McWhorter. I can only imagine the blowback he probably received for writing it (I’m imagining people calling him an “Uncle Tom” and all manner of racial slurs), but it’s definitely making me nod my head. Thank you for posting.

      I’m often to afraid to voice disagreement with Coates’ writings, but I’m not a huge fan. There was one essay about the audacity of Bill Cosby’s conservatism that made me roll my eyes the entire time.

  7. Forgot to congratulte Christian on writing the article, a courageous and excellent job, well done.

    It amazes me that the Left has regressed so far from King’s vision, ceding it’s foundational principles to the “racist” Right, while openly and contemptuously deriding a skin color regardless of origin, wealth, or status in our society….. exactly the open bigotry King was trying to inspire America to let go of.

    • DC, I’m reading this comment and what immediately comes to mind is the Leftist impulse to answer a comment like yours with “racism = prejudice + power” (i.e. black people don’t “have institutional power so they cannot be racist”). As a Leftist, I probably would have subscribed to this definition a few years ago, but now I’m rethinking it. I’ve worked in non-profit settings oriented toward civil rights advocacy, health care disparities, et cetera, for over five years now and I cannot tell you how often people feel emboldened to say hateful things or advocate for discriminatory practices in the name of equity. For example, I went for a job interview for a position with a racial justice civil rights organization; and while I was waiting to be interviewed, I heard someone in the other room say “We don’t need to hire any more white people.” As you said, it is open and contemptuous; but depending upon the environment, speaking up may lead to retaliation or ridicule. I like working in the field I am in and I don’t want to lose the passion I have for health care equity; but there have been times when the environment is incredibly hostile.

      • BF, I’d recommend McWhorters book “Winning the Race” for a careful, diligent, courageously bold and exhaustive analysis of what has occurred since the Civil Rights era. Likewise, check out John McWhorter and Glenn Loury on Bloggingheads TV at YouTube: two black professors artfully transgessing the institutionalized taboos of modern politically-correct no-go zones in race relations with erudition and refreshing honesty.

        Finally, Shelby Steele’s books are extremely thoughtfull works on the post Civil Rghts era, and Steele is no “Uncle Tom”(which I consider a bigoted term), even went to Algeria at one point to see about joining the Black Panthers. His books are an excellent window in to an essential and valuable dialogue that has been expelled from the current stagnated permissible-view Orthodoxy surrounding the dynamics of race in America. “Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country” and “White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era” are two of his books that really pierced my liberal, unthinking, superficial indoctrination on the issue of racism. You may not fully agree with his politics(he is a libertarian-conservative), but his books are well worth the time and may get your thoughts on the gridlock of race dynamics in America moving again.

        • Thanks so much for the recommendations. And I agree that “Uncle Tom” is a bigoted term. I have seen it (and variations of it) employed a number of times against black people and other people of color who challenge orthodox thinking on race/racism within the Left.

          I’ve heard of Shelby Steele but my own Leftist indoctrination has gotten in the way of pursuing any of his and Thomas Sowell’s writings. To be honest, I’m imagining how certain acquaintances and friends might think less of me for even having this conversation with you and others in this comment section. The indoctrination is difficult to break out of.

          • BF, there’s also a blinding falsehood in the statement “racism = prejudice + power, and black people don’t have institutional power.” This is objectively not the case in the 21st century.

            First of all, many of our most ailing and dysfunctional cities have bureacratic structures judiciously staffed by black Americans, from school teachers, administrators and civil management up to police chiefs and mayors. Many police departments, such as in Oakland, CA an hour south of me, have a wide ethnic diversity of officers in their ranks.

            Second, the Black Congressional Caucas has truly grown into a force to be reckoned with since the Civil Rights era, and even were the tip of the spear in instantiating the “racist” crack-cocaine laws of the late 80’s into the 90’s that disproportionately targeted and incarcerated young black men.

            Third, Barrack Obama was elected twice by generous margins, had a black Attorney General, and many other federal positions were and are held by black people. The statement ”racism = prejudice + power, and black people don’t have institutional power.” was starkly evident in 1960, but is a fairly hallucinatory statement today. This is not to say “we are a post-racist society!” , obviously racism exists and individal acts of prejudice must swiftly be dealt with, but it is to say great moral progress has indeed been made since half a century ago, and that stamping out the last warts and foibles of human idiocy that are in fact not exclusively the fault of any one ethnicity may in fact no longer be the problem- and is a Utopian delusion.
            It is also to say that holding political power looks more and more to be a mistaken key to change, as I pointed to above.

            It’s interesting to look at Thomas Sowell’s work as well, he documents how numerous heavily discriminated against minority groups, both in the US and abroad, have never actually lifted themselves out of poverty and crime through government programs, but rather by adopting highly productive lifestyle choices, and that over generations the outcomes for these communities begin to transform and improve. That is a fact that shall not be uttered in today’s climate of an ever widening definition of racism that myopically ignores individual behavior and even accuses those who shine a light on it as abetting or promulgating racism.

            Why do poor black African immigrants, living in the same neighborhoods as poor African-Americans, end up on the whole doing dramatically better than their neighbors in terms of school grades, employment, staying out of crime, marriage and family income? This is a difficult and fraught question, but an essential one, and White Supremacy is no longer a reasonable explanation.

            For that matter, why do Asian and Indian-Americans statistically have significantly better outcomes than white people do…. is that Asian or Indian Supremacy?

            These bumper-sticker explanations about “systemic racism”, while clearly worth considering and understanding as epic historical crimes, are in fact not helping anyone in 2018, least of all the black community, which is in fact full of free human beings, some disproportionate amount of which are born into hugely unfair and degraded conditions, and many of whom are locked into a co-dependant abusive psychological dynamic with an overtly paternalistic, genuflecting, and supposedly virtuous self-flagellating white progressive population that cannot speak honestly to the real issues of culture and behavior that have historically lifted up many other marganalized minorities in the United States and modern Western democracies in general.

            These dysfunctional behavior patterns are not racial, they are cultural, and overwhelmingly can only be healed and addressed from within the communities that they occur in.

            Read “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, which is a memoir by J.D. Vance, about the Appalachian values of his upbringing and their relation to the social problems of his hometown, to really see how destructive cultural patterns are not a racial issue. Poor white populations are mired in much the same horrid difficulties, poverty, crime and violence as poor blacks are.

            Also, try reading black author Jason Riley’s “False Black Power”, he lays out how black political and institutional power has indeed come to pass, but has been hugely ineffective at ameliorating the plight of America’s poor black population. I would add that a supposedly “Systemically White Supremacist” structure of American governance and power has likewise done nothing effective in terms of lifting up the poor white population. Again, it seems cultural behavior is what in the end matters most in terms of improvement in outcome over generations when overt discrimination by State power has been removed.

          • DC, you definitely address some interesting points.

            It’s definitely true that the 1994 crime bill passed during the Clinton administration had substantial support from black people and that “tough on crime” policies had previous support from black mayors in cities like Washington, DC in the decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

            I work and live in Newark, New Jersey, a majority black city. Specifically, I work at a federally-qualified community health center, and the majority of our clients are black, undocumented, and/or low-income. I am one of only two white people on our HIV/Infectious Disease team of about 15 people; the rest of our team is comprised of black immigrants and black Americans.

            I say all of this because I often hear them express points of view on race/racism that are closer to those you have mentioned from McWhorter, Riley, and others. I don’t necessarily agree 100 percent with these points of view (Riley is conservative, and I am not). But it is interesting to see the contrast between my current colleagues and people of color who I have worked/interacted with in the past – some of whom seemed to not only subscribe to the more extreme anti-racism ideology but also seemed to derive pleasure from white guilt/shame and white prostration. So while I agree that white people often do the self flagellation thing to absolve themselves of “sins,” I also believe that there are people of color who encourage and enjoy seeing that. There were situations in which I knew voicing disagreement with the Left’s orthodoxy on race/racism would be met with enmity and might have even resulted in losing a job, so I remained silent and sometimes allowed myself to be treated in a pretty degrading fashion.

            I’m probably guilty of perpetrating this dynamic in the past against other white people deemed “not woke enough” as well as against heterosexual people for their so-called collective sins against myself and other LGBT people. My thinking around issues of human rights and civil rights has undergone a major change during the past few years because I do feel like certain segments of the Left have been producing this toxic dynamic of enmity and vilification; I no longer want to be a part of it. I contrast my public promotion and support of the idea behind Black Lives Matter (I even have a sticker on my car) with the private reservations I have about the movement and some of its leadership.

            As a Leftist, I’m on board with solutions like free-at-point-of-use health care and education, de-criminalizing illicit drugs, reforming police departments, and amending the Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected categories. But I can’t abide the nihilistic impulses that saddle entire groups of people with some sort of “original sin” in the name of “social justice” – bizarrely it mirrors religious doctrine. Postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon warned about the dangers of reproducing a colonialist logic against the “oppressors.” I think that is happening more often than we’d like to believe.

            I’m very intrigued by Jason Riley’s work though – especially his book about a conservative case for open borders. I’m currently reading Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer,” and he has a section in which he states that the reactionaries (Far Right) and the radicals (Far Left) have more in common with each other than they do with the conventional Left and Right (liberal/conservative). It’s really resonating with me at this point in time.

  8. Excellent survey.

    Following some of the discussion in the Comments about reparations, should we ask African states and populations to also pay reparations to American blacks? After all, African states were central players in the organization of the Atlantic slave trade. John K. Thornton in his book “A Cultural History of the Atlantic World 1250 – 1820” documents that the slave trade “was controlled by the political and economic elite of Africa, and not by their European trading partners. … The records of the Dutch West India Company [and] … the records of French, English and Danish companies…tell us very much the same story. European merchants or companies acquired their slaves by purchase from African buyers, usually with the active participation of African states, both as taxing agencies and in their own right as commercial sellers. It is equally obvious that African states had the upper hand if the game of force was to be played.”

    As regards Donald Trump’s “shithole” comment, it is interesting that Africans’ own responses were not all entirely negative. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda thought Trump was telling Africans some useful and salutary truths. I discuss African responses in a blog post here:

    https://naimisha_forest.silvrback.com/truthtelling-from-the-sh-hole-or-make-africa-great-again

    • James says

      You have committed the Tu Quoque Logical Fallacy. Literally translating as ‘you too’, this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism. https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/tu-quoque

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